With the exhaustion of film narrative an accomplished fact, it would seem that new, “anti-narratives” might be an early clue to a new direction. Inspired by the famous comment by Jean-Luc Godard that a film should “have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order,” as well as the flexibility of the original plotline for his breakthrough film Breathless (1959) – “she loves him, or maybe she doesn’t. He loves her, or maybe he doesn’t. It ends badly, or maybe it doesn’t” – as well as the excellent example of scenarist Jean-Claude Carrière, who noted in an interview that when he co-wrote The Phantom of Liberty (1974) with Luis Buñuel, their narrative design aimed at “starting one story, and continuing until it became interesting, and then immediately cutting away to a less interesting narrative, until that, too, became interesting, and then cutting away to an even less interesting narrative again, and so on,” as well as the final moments of Roger Corman’s The Trip (1967), in which a paranoid Peter Fonda, convinced that the police are chasing him, is soothed by Salli Sachse, who responds, “What police? There are no police. I don’t believe in police,” we offer these ideas at possible filmic narratives, aimed at mimicking the “undramatic” thrust of Edmund Spenser’s epic, unfinished poem The Faerie Queene (1590-1596), in the hope that they may offer some fresh inspiration to the burned out scribes currently toiling in Hollywood, or, as Film Comment puts it in a regular monthly feature, “Running on Empty.” As you will notice, these scenarios are decidedly lacking in conflict; who says you need conflict to create a successful screenplay? It’s so 20th century. With that in mind –
*Two armies meet on a vast plain, seemingly destined to battle to the death. At the last moment, both of the commanding generals decide that war is useless – “A whole lot of us are going to get killed!” – and successfully negotiate a peaceful settlement, and retire from the battlefield without a single blow exchanged.
*A group of young hipsters in a “mumblecore” movie suddenly realize that they can’t understand what they’re saying to each other. They begin texting, and the problem is solved.
*In the American west in the 1880s, a frontier sheriff learns that three men he sent to prison years ago are coming back to town on the noon train to kill him. Realizing that no one in town will help him, he takes his wife, who is a pacifist and supports him in this decision, and leaves town immediately, never to return.
*An eccentric millionaire offers five strangers $1,000,000 each if they will spend the night in a genuinely haunted house, where many murders have occurred. All the guests immediately decline, and the party is cancelled.
*A young woman is startled by a man who appears at her doorway late one rainy night. However, he only wants to return her wallet. She thanks him, and he leaves.
*A lonely old puppeteer creates a puppet of a young boy, and wishes that it would come alive, and be a real son to him. But he quickly realizes this will never happen, and instead mounts an elaborate puppet show, after throwing the puppet in the trash.
*A washed up prizefighter makes one last attempt at a comeback. To the surprise of everyone, he knocks out his much abler opponent with a single punch, and then takes the prize money, opens a restaurant, and retires. He throws away all his fighting memorabilia; “Who wants to remember that?” he says to his patrons.
*After years of toiling in her wicked stepmother’s house, Cinderella’s fairy godmother appears and turns her into a gorgeous princess just in time for the royal ball. She dances all night with the dashing young prince, but vanishes at the stroke of midnight, leaving only a glass slipper behind. “I wonder who she was?” muses the prince, and then forgets all about her.
*A deranged scientist makes his way back to his abandoned laboratory in a castle high in the Carpathian mountains, only to discover the Wolfman and the Frankenstein monster there, both encased in huge blocks of ice. “Let’s thaw them out, and they’ll help us in our research!” the scientist exclaims. “That’s a terrible idea,” responds his assistant. The scientist agrees – “What was I thinking!” – and both promptly leave the castle.
*A young Marine is discharged after serving in Vietnam. He moves to New York City, and unable to sleep, takes a job driving a cab all night. One day, a teenage hooker jumps in his cab, trying to escape from her pimp. The pimp pulls her out of the cab, and throws the cabbie a $20 bill. Pocketing the bill, the cabbie shrugs, and forgets all about it. Things like this happen all the time.
*An underdog football team enters a Championship game against a highly rated opposing team. As everyone predicted, they lose, but no one cares; it’s been an entertaining afternoon.
*A woman gives up her baby for adoption. She never regrets it for a moment.
*A young woman impulsively steals $40,000 from her employer, and drives away in her car. Exhausted after hours of driving, she pulls into the Bates Motel for the night. But after a moment, she decides to hit a local diner instead for some really strong coffee, drives back to Phoenix, returns the money, and her employer forgives her. Meanwhile, a nice young man is busy cleaning the bathrooms of the motel, as he does every week.
*A mysterious man drives from coast to coast in the United States, picking up numerous hitchhikers along the way. In this fashion, he makes many new friends.
*A young boy and girl are lost in the forest. Realizing this, the girl pulls out a compass, figures out where they are, and guides them both to safety.
*Deep in space, a spaceship picks up a distress signal from an unexplored planet. Figuring correctly that it would be dangerous to investigate, they ignore it, and continue on to their destination.
*A man feels that he is about to commit a series of horrendous crimes – serial killings – and seeks treatment. He never murders anyone, and the treatments are a complete success. He becomes a respected member of the community.
*A gang of aging thieves gathers together to pull one last big robbery. But then, given the risk, they decide it isn’t worth it, and abandon the plan entirely.
*Two teenagers realize that their respective families strenuously object to their budding romance, and decide it isn’t worth it to pursue the matter any further.
*A flying saucer lands in the Arctic, embedded under sheets of ice, and a team of scientists use thermite bombs to unearth it. The bombs destroy both the ship and its occupants entirely. The scientists shrug and leave. The incident goes unreported.
*A young boy and his faithful dog are out for a walk in the country, when the boy falls down a deep well. The dog, frightened, runs away. The boy is never found.
*A cursed videotape causes all who watch it to die within 24 hours. Realizing this, a young mother destroys the tape by throwing it into the furnace; besides, VHS is obsolete.
*Five young men and women gather in a cabin in the woods. In the basement of the house, a young woman finds a book, bound with barbed wire under a pile of dead animals. “This looks dangerous – let’s get out of here” she tells her friends, and the group quickly departs the cabin and checks in to a nearby motel, with a great swimming pool and sauna.
Wheeler Winston Dixon is the author, most recently, of Death of the Moguls: The End of Classical Hollywood, and the forthcoming Streaming: Movies, Media and Instant Access. Gwendolyn Audrey Foster is the editor in chief of Quarterly Review of Film and Video, and the author of many books on film and popular culture.